In L.A., supporters of a 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign are ready to get on board early

November 9, 2013

Hillary Rodham Clinton stood on another stage, facing another overflowing ballroom.

This time, the locale was the University of Southern California, where the elegant Town and Gown hall was jammed to capacity Saturday morning with more than 400 members of the country’s Latino political and business elite. The agenda: honoring the former secretary of state for her role in inspiring the creation of the Mexican American Leadership Initiative, a group of prominent Latinos who support philanthropic projects in Mexico and promote what Clinton called “a shared future” between the two nations.

But many of those in attendance had another mission as well: demonstrating the commitment of their support — financial and otherwise — if Clinton decides to make another run for the White House.

“What you see here today is an example of people coming out from all corners of the Latino spectrum — from business, from politics, from nonprofits — to get on board early,” said Henry Cisneros, a longtime Clinton friend, as he surveyed the crowd filling a sunny plaza before the event.

Cisneros, who served as housing secretary for President Bill Clinton, mused about a possible 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign: “The really interesting thing if this happens is, how do you sort out all the people who are going to get their feelings hurt if they don’t have prime roles? Because you can’t accommodate everybody.”

Clinton’s two-day swing through Los Angeles last week showed the deep reservoir of ready support for her in California, home to some of the party’s most influential fundraisers and Latino leaders. Already, some are scrambling to register their loyalty through whatever means available.

“There’s huge energy for her, not only here, but all over California,” said Mickey Kantor, who served as commerce secretary under Bill Clinton. “Her roles as a senator, as secretary of state, as first lady — they’ve made her a star.”

Without a campaign to serve as a receptacle for their excitement, Clinton backers are boosting the fortunes of groups that come within Clinton’s orbit. Call it the Hillary Effect.

Jubilant officials at the International Medical Corps, a humanitarian nonprofit group based in Santa Monica, said the group raised close to $2 million after featuring Clinton at its annual awards celebration Friday night at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, whose ballroom was jammed with 880 people. Bill Clinton made an appearance at the VIP champagne reception beforehand, mugging for photos with singer Lenny Kravitz, among others.

“I think they’ve raised twice as much tonight as any event they’ve ever had before, so it means everything in the world,” said DreamWorks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg. He and his wife, Marilyn, were among the event’s co-chairs, along with director Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw — all potential heavyweight backers of a Clinton 2016 bid.

Andy Spahn, a top Hollywood political consultant, said that major political donors are focused now on raising money to back Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections. But “if Secretary Clinton ultimately decides to run for president in 2016, we will walk through walls for her,” Spahn said.

At every turn during Clinton’s Los Angeles stay, she was greeted by potential fundraisers and political surrogates. Producer-director Rob Reiner moderated a closed-door discussion Friday with Clinton, her daughter, Chelsea, and a group of top television executives and writers about how to weave story lines about national service and early childhood education into television shows.

At USC on Saturday, Clinton mingled with a host of leading Latino figures, including former U.S. ambassador to Argentina Vilma Martinez, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and former labor secretary Hilda Solis.

Roberto Suro, director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at the university, said Clinton already has strong standing in the community, in part because of her 2008 campaign’s intense outreach to Latino voters, which provided a bulwark of support that helped her win the Texas and California primaries.

The turnout for Saturday’s event was “a way for people who are enthusiastic about the possibility of her running to show it,” Suro said.

During her speech, Clinton steered clear of political talk, emphasizing her long history of working with the Mexican American community. She recounted how her high school church group used to babysit young children in migrant camps in Illinois and reminisced about registering voters in south Texas in 1972. She also emphasized her support for enhancing the role of “diaspora” communities in helping shape relations between the United States and countries such as Mexico.

“Part of the obvious argument for immigration reform is we are a country of immigrants,” she said, drawing sustained applause, “and we should be celebrating that, rather than fearing that.”

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